LinkedIn Learning

I have quite mixed feelings towards LinkedIn. The platform seems to be a pretty cool concept, a bridge that connects employers with employees, and companies with potential partners. Somewhere along the line; however, the content on LinkedIn has grown a bit out of control, with excessive quizzes or motivational quotes whose origin no one is certain about. My impression is that job-seeking users only use the platform when they are looking for opportunities and stop all interaction whenever there is no such need. Personally, there were times in the past when I didn’t visit the site for weeks and I believe that I am not alone. Consequently, I am never motivated to be a LinkedIn subscriber.

With that being said, I was excited to read about the latest news regarding LinkedIn Learning.

Per TechCrunch:

Now, with 13,000 courses on the platform, LinkedIn  is announcing two new developments to get more people using the service. It will now offer videos, tutorials and courses from third-parties such as Treehouse and the publishing division of Harvard Business School. And in a social twist, people who use LinkedIn Learning — the students and teachers — will now be able to ask and answer questions around LinkedIn Learning sessions, as well as follow instructors on LinkedIn, and see others’ feedback on courses.

Unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning comes when a person pays for LinkedIn’s Premium Career tier, which costs around $30/month…

The first group includes Harvard Business Publishing (e.g. leadership development courses from Harvard Business School’s publishing arm); getAbstract (a Blinkist-style service that provides 10,000+ non-fiction book summaries plus TED talks); Big Think: 500 short-form videos on topics of the day (these are not so much “courses” as they are “life lessons” — subjects include organizing activism and an explainer on how to end bi-partisan politics); Treehouse, with courses on coding and product design skills; and Creative Live, with courses and tutorials for professionals in the creative industries to improve their skills and business acumen.

In addition to Premium features such as InMail or “See you looked at your profile” or salary comparison, a LinkedIn Premium Career comes with content from other platforms that can be pricey on their own. For instance, Treehouse costs $25/month, getAbstract can go up to the same price as well. Throw in potential costs from other content providers and you’ll see how hard LinkedIn wants to attract users by offering much value. In the same way as Spotify offers students with a combo of Spotify Premium, Hulu and Showtime.

This reflects the importance that Microsoft placed on LinkedIn recently. It was reported that activity on LinkedIn would be one of the factors determining the pay of Microsoft’s CEO next year. Nonetheless, LinkedIn Premium Career subscription looks more intriguing to me now with the new added lineup of 3rd party content.

If you plan to subscribe to an online learning website anyway in the near future, this can be a cool option. I never use any of the added 3rd party platforms, but the perks of LinkedIn Premium Career , especially for graduates, may be valuable.

SEO and Employability

I was tasked with improving the SEO of our website. While at it, I noticed a similarity between SEO and employment prospect in this age and day. Let me explain why.

What is SEO?

First, let’s talk about how SEO is related to a website

Untitled Diagram

If users can’t find your website on the search engine, it will be almost impossible to generate sales. Below is the conversion rate by ranking position:

Source: Smartinsights

The lower your website’s ranking position, the lower the conversion rate. Hence, SEO is about making your website as high as possible on search engine result pages in your targeted keywords.

Here is what I think is a successful SEO strategy:

DFD_Unroasted (1).png

It is a sweet spot of what you sell, the content you offer to audience and how well the website is built technically to allow indexing and crawling by Google. Let’s talk about keywords

Keywords

There are two types of keywords: long-tail and short-tail.

short vs long tail keywords benefits

Source: SEOpressor

As you can see, short-tail keywords are popular, but they are highly sought after and as a result, your conversion rate tends to be low. On the other hand, long-tail keywords have much less popularity, but much higher conversion rate as they are more targeted and specific.

Of course, all brands want high conversion rate, but at the same time, it’s not possible to avoid short-tail keywords altogether. Brands need to be in the conversation to be heard. However, the competition is fierce. Generic or short-tail keywords like cars, pizza or laptop etc… are highly competitive. Therefore, it requires patience. It takes relentless and consistent SEO effort to yield favorable results. It requires regularly useful content to audience and consistent fine-tuning of the website over a long time to succeed. If all it took were money, it would be impossible to compete with deep-pocketed firms. I have encountered a few brands while working in advertising agencies and marketing in Vietnam that demanded over-night SEO success. It’s just not possible.

How is it related to employability nowadays?

As access to knowledge and information is easier than ever, the competition for well-paid jobs is increasingly competitive. Whether it’s in Venture Capital, Investment Banking, Medicine, Software Development or Data Science, there are a score of other candidates with more or less the same portfolio and qualifications as you or I do. Hence, it takes patience. It takes consistent delivery of useful content online to stand out. It takes finding out your “long-tail keywords” to increase your employment conversion rate. 

Well, of course, if you are lucky enough to know the right folks, it will be easier. But at the same time, others can get to know those right folks too. Nonetheless, the older I am, the more I realize the importance of patience. It’s not easy, especially to an impatient one like myself. At least, it’s better late than never.

 

Survey on scooters in Portland

For the past few days, I have seen quite some tweet and retweet on the recent survey on how scooters are allegedly taking cars off the street.

I am baffled.

If taking cars off the street is the objective, there is a concept called public transits that does quite a nice job in that department in big cities in Western Europe. Public transits work well over short or long distance while I am not sure scooters can be that helpful for a long commute. Plus, it may be decreasing the demand for cars or Uber for now, but the effect may be exaggerated by the recent emergence of scooters. Over a considerable period, there is no evidence for similar effect. At least not yet.

Also, the method mentioned in the article is a survey sent out to scooter users. To actually back up such a claim that scooters are taking cars off the street, there should be more sophisticated investigative method than a survey asking for biased opinions.

Coming from a country where scooters (the real ones) are the main commute method, I am baffled by the love for the American version of scooters here. They may feel attractive at first, especially when people are sick of cars and traffic. But over time, it is not pleasant at all. I’d love to see more public transits in even small and remote cities in the US. I’d love to see cheaper transportation here in the US. It’s not uncommon for people to drive from city to city to avoid expensive flights.

 

Book: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor

I am in the middle of the book: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks. It looks to be a short book, but 40% in the book, I have been delighted by the concise and thoughtful insights the author shares in his words. If you are a fan of value investing or the investing philosophy made famous by Ben Graham, Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger, this book should not surprise you as many topics touched upon by Howard Marks follow the same philosophy.

One of the best lessons I have learned so far from the book is the difference between first-level thinking and second-level thinking. The goal of investing is to outperform the market and other investors. It’s not easy as information is widely accessible now, making it highly challenging to gain some insights that few others know. Nonetheless, if gained, the contrarian thinking or unpopular but correct insights will enable superior returns compared to the returns of market or other investors.

First-level thinking can be done by almost everyone. It’s “simplistic and superficial”. First-level thinkers have an opinion about the future as in “the outlook for the company is favorable, meaning the stock will go up”. Second-level thinking is deep, convoluted and complex. Second-level thinkers arrive at conclusions and forecasts that are both correct and not thought of by the consensus. But it’s hard to do so.

There are many other lessons offered in the book. I highly recommend it if you are interested in investing. After all, we can’t get rich without making money while we are sleeping, can we?

 

Book: The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle is a new book written by the founder of Behance, a networking platform for designers. He is now the Chief Product Officer at Adobe. The book reflects his bootstrapping years at Behance and great lessons on businesses, career and entrepreneurship. Even if you are not an entrepreneur (I am not), this book has some insights on how tough it is to be one and fantastic lessons on how to advance your career. The book may get a bit mundane as it progresses, but the good thing is that many small chapters aren’t related to one another and you can skip forward or move backward at will. No need to read it in order. Below are a few of my favorite passages:

On self-awareness

Self-awareness starts with the realization that when you’re at a peak or in a valley, you’re not your greatest self. Self-awareness means dispelling your sense of superiority and the myths that people believe about you.

Ultimately, self-awareness is about preserving sound judgement and keeping relatable and realistic. However big your project or ambition, your journey is nothing more than a sequence of decisions: You’re probably many decisions away from success, but always one decision away from failure. Clarity matters. The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings, the more data you have to inform your decisions, and the more competitive you will be

On authenticity

Nobody remembers or is inspired by anything that fits in

I do the work I do because I have to. I can’t help it. I was born this way – I can’t be false to any man. I know what the current trends and moods are, but I can’t concern myself with them. I also can’t force myself (as many do) to make work that fits within the going commercial style. Trends change and I believe that is why my work is still relevant today, because I am the only one making work like mine.

The idea of being born “weird” means you have a gift – like being born a star athlete. It would a sin to deny my gift. My “weird” is powerful. It stands out. I know that it attracts some individuals and clients, and repels others. I have to be cool with that. I am not for everyone – just the sexy people. Like you.

And as American artist Sol LeWitt once advised, “Learn to say ‘fuck you’ to the world once in a while”. Do your thing.

On doing the hard work

There’s a reason so few people do hard work beyond their job description: It’s hard work. You run the risk of extending energy or falling behind in other pars of your life, but these are the costs of playing at the frontier and having the opportunity to lead something new. You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of new and better systems. Of course, if you aspire to transform your industry and leave a valuable mark in your world, you’ll challenge every system you find yourself confined by. When you see something wrong, take the initiative to fix it.

When you find yourself frustrated or critical, channel that energy into persistent creation. If it’s not your job, pursue it anyway. Do research, run tests, or draft white papers and presentations to prove your position, even if it’s on your own time. It’ll give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of preordained tasks will.

A shared trait among entrepreneurs and innovators within big companies is defying prescribed roles. The future is drafted by people doing work they don’t have to do. You need to be one of those people and hire them, too. There is too much wonder and talking and too little doing. So don’t talk: do

On how difficult it is to stay positive when dealing with hardships of entrepreneurship. I am not an entrepreneur, but it’s something I feel relatable, as I believe many do.

When I think back to those lost years, I recall a constant somber loneliness, a suffering from the feeling that nobody else could relate. The struggle was further compounded by the optimism I had to exude to my team and potential customers and partners. My hope had to be minded deep beneath the surface of fear and reality. The juxtaposition of the intensity of a start-up and feeling invisible and despondent was soul crushing. Staying positive was exhausting, and there were times when I felt depressed.

Without a steady stream of rewards, you will feel empty. You must supplement this void with manufactured optimism. You will have to endure anonymity and a persistent state of frustration. You’ll have to generate a unique and intrinsic sense of belief in yourself as you manage the blows to your plan and ego.

 

Tipping Culture

One of the things by which I have been amazed is the tipping culture in the US.

Whenever I go to local coffee shops, I feel that I am pressured and shamed to give tips. And for no reason that I can understand. My go-to coffee is just purely black coffee. No fancy “pumpkin latte” or even a mocha. Just black coffee. However, I always feel that the modern technology and current practices make me feel ashamed if I don’t tip. In some stores, after a payment is made, there are several options popping up on the counter iPad ranging from probably 10% to 30% or something. Of course, there is a “no tip” option, but it guilts you into doing it. And 20% tip for what? For handing me a black coffee 2 feet away? Don’t we already pay for the combination of the goods and services?

Last week, I was out for a dinner with a friend. The waitress sat us down and quickly ran through a menu with jargon and names that we didn’t fully understand. No biggie. Around 30 minutes in and we were in a middle of an engaging conversation, she showed up and asked: “if everything is ok?”. I was annoyed. If we had had trouble, we would have let her know. Being interrupted when you are in a conversation is just annoying. A bit later, when we still had around 20% food on the plate that we fully intended to finish, she came and asked if we wanted to get a check. We said no. We were still eating. It was unbelievable. Our whole meal lasted around one hour, not like a marathon session or anything. And we are expected to tip for all that?

I understand that service workers rely on tips as their salary isn’t enough. But that’s not on users/consumers. That’s because businesses pass on that part of employee compensation to the end users while still maintaining their margin. That’s insane. Suddenly, end users are pressured by guilt into tipping, especially given that in many cases, the service doesn’t warrant for tips.

We don’t have tips in Vietnam. I didn’t see it while in Europe. What you see in the bill is what you pay. But it’s never the whole story here in the US. Most things are advertised at the lowest possible price with a lot of strings attached. While I understand that this tipping practice has been around for a long time and likely isn’t going anywhere soon, I’d love to see business owners pay employees more so that they wouldn’t have to rely on tips. Like I would love to have a meal in peace without being interrupted and pushed to leave.

 

 

Going above and beyond

One of my Capstone project’s requirements is to match an address input by a user with a legislative district in Nebraska on a map visualization. Unfortunately, neither Google Map API or Mapbox API, two of the most popular map APIs out there, has that feature.

I read through their documentation and decided to email them both, hoping that I might have missed something or that their specialists might have some advice. Both came back with a response. The Google customer service agent simply said that there was no such feature from Google Map API and that I might go to a designated link to make a suggestion. Meanwhile, the Mapbox agent confirmed my suspicion that Mapbox didn’t offer that feature. However, he suggested a way to accomplish it by using turf Javascript package.

Even though both don’t have the feature I am looking for, the extra effort by the Mapbox agent delighted me. I like the brand even more now. In the future, if I have to look for a map API service, Mapbox, for sure, will be up there at the top of the list. It goes to show how a going-an-extra-mile customer service can leave a lasting positive impact on users and potential customers.

Potential new features for Mapbox and Google Map

I found two small players that offered legislative district mapping and census data: Cicero and US Geocoder. Surprisingly, Mapbox and Google Map do not offer such features. It shouldn’t be difficult for them to do so, I imagine. So I hope that they will take a suggestion from me and add those features to their already awesome products.

Poor User Experience on CRN

If you go to crn.com, you will come across some articles with pretty annoying design and poor user experience. Look below

CRN Web Experience

The article is split into multiple parts and pages, forcing users to navigate to other pages to read it in its entirety. The first page features one photo and 5-6 small paragraphs. It’s a very annoying experience for audience. I don’t know the real rationale behind this design, but I think it is aimed at increasing page activities and lowering bounce rates. Obviously only the folks at CRN can tell whether this design does whatever it is aimed to do, but as a user, it is the sole reason why I don’t read CRN. Even though it’s a known brand in the technology media sphere, but I prefer siliconangle.com, or lightreading. There is not much on CRN that can convince me to click 5 or 6 times to read an article.

Cost of user acquisition keeps rising. It’s not easy to acquire users and it’s damn sure not easy to retain them. If you already convince people to read your site, at least make it a pleasant experience.

Initiatives in the Tourism Industry in Vietnam

First of all, if you are looking for a website to learn more about Vietnam and particularly Saigon, I highly recommend this website – Saigoneer. Its section on street food is a great start. It’s in English and has lots of details.

There are a few upcoming initiatives announced recently in the industry:

  • There will be bi-weekly direct flights form Zurich to Saigon
  • Vietnam Airlines will soon operate direct flights from Danang to Japan
  • Vietnam Airlines is exploring the possibility of direct flights from Vietnam to America
  • Vietnam Tourism Association will soon carry out exams to classify tour guides in the country. Tour guides will be given 3 to 5 stars based on the results of the exams which will be free of charge and voluntary. Also, freelance tour guides are now mandated to be under contracts with authorized tour companies in order to do business
  • BBC Sport reported that a 2020 race in Hanoi, Vietnam was now secured barring an official announcement

Three points here. First, the tourism industry brought in $13 billion in the first half of 2018, an increase of 22% compared to last year. It is huge for a country like Vietnam. We have a lot to offer. A long coast throughout the country. An authentic and exotic cuisine. We have beaches, mountains and Mekong Delta, everything that a tourist can hope to experience. But our tourism has been plagued by the lack of standards in services leading to the poor return rate of guests. Our country is pretty much a myth that is worth exploring once and no more. In business, it costs 6 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. This is the same case. Even though the tour guide exam’s effectiveness remains to be seen (we Vietnamese are not known for world class execution), it is a small step towards the right direction. If we want to compete and have more guests return, maintaining high service standards is instrumental.

Secondly, having more direct flights is huge. Thailand and Singapore have two airport hubs in the region and look what the airports have done to their tourism. Direct flights will reduce the hesitation from guests when they have to make a decision on where to visit. Vietnam’s two biggest airports sorely need major upgrade. It’s a pity that some bureaucracy red tape has prevented the expansion of the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. We have the land to do so and the airport is ridiculously right next to the city center. I have been to quite some airports and I haven’t seen one that close to a city center. Nonetheless, having more direct flights will increase our appeal as a destination.

Lastly, I have been hoping for annual international event in Vietnam for years. Singapore’s F1 Grand Prix has been a remarkable success since its debut in 2008. Otherwise, Singapore wouldn’t keep hosting it. A race is usually a combination of music concerts, press conference, other activities and of course the racing itself. With the reach of Formula 1, Vietnam’s brand awareness which has been under-marketed due to lackluster branding and marketing efforts will hopefully be boosted.

CaaS vs PaaS and Kubernetes vs PKS

One of my concerns before I hit the “Publish” button every time is whether what I have to say is correct and has merit, especially the entries that are aimed to explain complex concepts. But I learned that public feedback or criticisms are part of the learning process. So even though I am nervous to publish this, I figure I’ll just give it a try.

I have been reading on the difference between Kubernetes and Pivotal Container Service (PKS) and the difference between Container-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service. Below is my understanding put in simple terms so it can be understood better.

CaaS vs PaaS

In the fast-changing market nowadays, fast and regular releases of software are crucial to customer satisfaction and gaining competitive advantage. Both tools offer automation of mundane and time-consuming tasks to liberate developers.Both  are aimed to help developers devote more time on real programming and less time on setting up the underlying infrastructure. The difference between the two concepts lies on how much freedom/autonomy each offers developers and how far on the stack each abstracts

Cass vs PaaS

In short, PaaS such as Pivotal Application Service (PAS) all developers to focus on the applications and data. The rest is managed by a service provider. It offers a great deal of automation. With PAS, consistency is emphasized as there are rules enforced on developers by the tool itself and the leaders in the development team. However, it also means that PaaS provides lower flexibility and less DIY, something that may not sit well with developers. A salesperson from the company I am working at shared with me a story that a financial prospect didn’t want PAS because of resistance from its developers.

CaaS such as Pivotal Container Service (PKS) or Kubernetes doesn’t offer Application Runtime. The application networking piece is in yellow because while PKS does offer it, Kubernetes doesn’t. With CaaS, there is a higher level of flexibility and DIY, but less automation, compared to PaaS. Developers tend to welcome it more as they have the freedom to express themselves.

Kubernetes vs PKS

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration tool that automates the scaling, management and deployment of containers. Think of a pod (one/multiple containers that share the same task) as a body part that does a specific set of functions. Kubernetes is like a head scheduling & distributing tasks and maintaining the health of all body parts. Kubernetes is for developers, not so much for Operations team who has to maintain the health of the system on a daily basis. While the master node in Kubernetes can orchestrate children nodes and replace them when they are down, who will do the same for the master nodes? Plus, all the patching, installation and upgrades to Kubernetes? The Operational task that comes after deployment can be a headache.

This is where PKS offers values. PKS is an enhanced enterprise-grade Kubernetes. One of its component, called BOSH, automates the installation, patching as well as upgrades. It also does to master nodes in Kubernetes what master nodes do to children nodes. BOSH automates the management, scaling and deployment of the clusters.

PKS and Kubernetes

Another value proposition is related to micro-segmentation. Micro-segmentation in this case refers to the isolation at container, pod and cluster levels. Developers can set rules dictating which container, pod or cluster can communicate with one another. Isolation is made possible with the use of firewalls around the subject at hand. With Kubernetes, developers have to take time to set it up. When the number of nodes increases, the task becomes more taxing and complicated. With PKS, its NSX-T tool is integrated to automate that task, saving developers a bulk of time and increasing the time-to-market release of software.

If a company has an army of developers and prefers fast time-to-market as well as consistency, PaaS such as PAS should be the tool. If the company wants to use an open-source tool and can afford time to manage operational tasks itself, Kubernetes is the choice here. PKS offers the best of both worlds. As far as I know, it’s significantly cheaper than PAS. It complements Kubernetes while maintaining the flexibility that the open-source orchestration tool offers.